December 15, 2019
(Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Matthew 11:2-11)
It's a classic tale: good vs. evil, the powers of darkness vs. the powers of light, the virtuous vs. the corrupt; it's ... Walt Disney's cartoon battle between the apparently befuddled old Merlin and the purple wickedness of the "marvelous mad Madam Mim"!
In case this dramatic duel has slipped your mind, or you don't have children or grandchildren the right age to force you to relive this battle on a daily video-viewing basis, let me refresh your memory. It's worth the memories, for it really is a clever clash. Merlin and Mim are fighting it out because Mim wants to eat Merlin's student, none other than the young King Arthur. Obviously, a lot is at stake. The witch and the wizard agree to certain rules before their battle, pledging among other things that neither of them will turn into a purple-spotted, fire-breathing dragon or turn invisible altogether.
But as the contest heats up, the wicked Mim cheats and turns herself into the fire-breathing dragon she had promised not to become. She explains away her duplicity by claiming she is a "plain old fire-breathing dragon," which she never promised anything about. Just as Mim is about to incinerate the hapless Merlin, he apparently disappears. Enraged, the dragon-Mim accuses Merlin of breaking their rules by becoming invisible. The magician's seemingly disembodied voice floats back to Mim and announces, "I am not gone. And I am not invisible. I am a germ."
A germ? In fact, Merlin has transformed himself into a very specific and quite potent dragon-virus, which immediately reduces the dragon-Mim into a pathetically sneezing, coughing, broken-out-into-spots, bedridden mess. Merlin triumphs by using his brains and by dramatically demonstrating that size doesn't matter.
Not long ago, a warning of another germ or virus came out on cyberspace channels:
WARNING ... WARNING ... ADVENT VIRUS IS GOING OUT:
Be on the alert for symptoms of inner HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus, and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.
Some signs and symptoms of THE ADVENT VIRUS:
• An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
• A loss of interest in judging other people.
• A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
• A loss of interest in conflict.
• A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
• Suddenly you will have frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
• Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
• Frequent attacks of smiling.
• An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
• An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it ourselves.
Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.
The Merlin virus is one we want to avoid; however, another virus, the Messiah Virus, is one we want to catch! Have you come down with the virus yet? No? It's the church's job to infect you!
Sadly, our stern, sterile, workaday world can disinfect our dreams and desires. Too often we are "cured" of viruses with which we should remain infected all our lives.
• The soaring divorce rate shows how many of us have found ourselves "cured" of "lovesickness."
• The number of people who never notice a beautiful sunset, a glowing rainbow, a whipped-cream castle of clouds, demonstrates how many of us have managed to come out from being "under the weather."
• The populations fully inoculated against tendencies toward love, joy, compassion, empathy and vulnerability seem to be one of the devil's best health-care programs.
To nurture along this tiny, invisible, insubstantial "Advent Virus" until it can grow and spread into pandemic proportions is the mission of the church's Christmas season itself. We can't properly prepare for the arrival of Christ in our midst until we come down with this fever and try our utmost to spread it around. During this season we learn how to be "Typhoid Marys" of this Advent or Messiah Virus.
But beware: There are a lot of germs floating around out there that will try to mimic the "Advent Virus." How can Christians be sure they are infected with the real thing? How can we be sure we aren't just suffering from a disease that only imitates some of the classic symptoms of the "Advent Virus"?
Today's gospel text has John the Baptist essentially asking the same question of Jesus. How do we know you are "Are you the one who is to come?" What are the symptoms your presence elicits in my body, mind and spirit? It's little noted that earlier in Matthew's Gospel, at the start of Jesus' public ministry, John seemed more convinced of Jesus' genuine nature. In 3:14, John had hesitated to baptize Jesus with John's famous water baptism, humbly claiming that "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?" But time and perhaps the cold reality of Herod's prison cell had apparently cooled John's Advent fever. Now he wants to see evidence and hear proofs of Jesus' messianic ministry.
How did Jesus respond to this challenge? Jesus responds to John's disciples by providing them with a litany of symptoms, which when combined can lead to only one accurate diagnosis about Jesus' identity and the symptomology of the new messianic age. What are these signpost symptoms? The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor receive good news. Certainly would be convincing to me!
Do you want to catch the Advent Virus, but don't know how? There's at least one simple way to catch any virus: Expose yourself to the virus you want to catch.
What do parents with several young children do when the first one catches chicken pox? Attempt to protect the other children from the potent pox? No! Some, believe it or not, will place the healthy children in the same room with the infected child. They will allow them to play together, watch TV together in the hope that they, too, will catch the virus, so that this childhood disease will visit all the children at the same time.
Want to catch the Advent Virus? Expose yourself to people who have it! Search out the opportunities to revisit the meaning of Christmas, to flee manic mall madness, to mingle with those for whom the Messiah is a meaningful presence in their lives. Seek out the community of the infected and inflamed and the fervent and feverish. You'll catch the Advent Virus every time!
As an Advent Virus carrier, you will now want to spread the "infection" to others. Rather than modeling the typical consumerist attitude that floods the secular observance of this time of year, insist on spreading the Advent viral infection of joy, thoughtfulness, reflection and renewal. AKA: HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE
The Advent Virus.
The Messiah Virus.
Catch it and spread it!
Let us pray.
We pray that we, like John the Baptist, place our faith in Christ and that we commit our lives to following his message of salvation. We pray to the Lord.
On this Gaudete Sunday, we pray that all Christians throughout the world experience hope, peace, joy and love as we prepare for the wonderful gift of the Christ birth. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for our leaders in the Church, ordained and non-ordained, that they may be inspired to follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist in preparing God’s people for the coming of our Savior. We pray to the Lord.
That the victims of the mass shootings this past week in Texas and New Jersey will rest in peace eternal may the deceased rest in peace eternal; and may all those who have experienced violence in their lives, may God provide consolation through the support of caregivers as they recover from their physical and emotional wounds. May the Holy Spirit be with them all during this time of pain. We pray to the Lord.
That people will learn tolerance and respect of those of different religious views. That senseless shootings based on faith comes to an end, especially this week for anti-Semitism. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Dear God, troubled and confused in a confusing, troubled world, we try to make sense out of the conflicting voices. We search to find one word that will make sense and give meaning to the rest. Come near, Lord. Touch our hearts and souls; enfold your life around ours; speak that one cleansing, unifying word. O God, this beautiful Advent stirs such hope in us. In this season we find light, joy, peace, hope, and love – all glimpses of the world to come. May these remaining days leading to the Nativity of your Son be sacred and holy, filled with true love for mankind. We want to see Jesus and to let him be seen by all we meet. Help us to drink in every moment, to behold the beauty and majesty, and to worship the King who was and is and is to come. Express yourself to us, in us, through us; in the name of the Christ child. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA